On the Plate

By Steven Hoffman / September 10, 2011

GMOs—you’ve probably heard of them. But what you may not have heard is that, according to industry estimates, GMOs are in 80 percent of the food products sold in conventional supermarkets.

GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are foods, crops or organisms that have been created through the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology. Also called genetic engineering, GE or GM, this relatively new science allows DNA from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

In the 15 years since the FDA first approved the use of GMOs in commercial food production—without requiring any labeling at all—nearly 90 percent, of all the corn, soy, sugar beets and cotton grown in the United States is GMO, according to data from nonprofit research organizations including the Institute for Responsible Technology, the Non-GMO Project, and The Organic Center. Since corn and soy are used as an ingredient in one form or another in so many foods, nearly all of our conventional food products contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Proponents claim that GMO crops are more sustainable in that they require less pesticides. However, recent data from The Organic Center shows that while herbicide usage decreased when GMO agriculture was first introduced, the use of toxic synthetic herbicides actually increased by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008 as a result of GMO agriculture. Additionally, research has shown that the overuse of one particular herbicide, Roundup, marketed by Monsanto in tandem with its GMO seeds, is leading to increased weed resistance, thus significantly lowering yield estimates also promised by proponents of GMO crops.

Although there have been attempts to increase nutritional benefits or productivity, GMOs have not lived up to their promise in either regard. The only main traits that have been added to date are herbicide tolerance and the ability of the plant to produce its own pesticide. Yet, these very traits are actually raising health concerns about toxins and allergens in GE foods, as well as concerns over genetic drift from GMO pollen into native species.

One group concerned about the public health effects related to widespread adoption of GMOs in food is the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. Calling for a moratorium on GMO foods in 2009, the Academy concluded: “Avoid GM foods when possible… Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with
GM food… There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation…”

Now the FDA is considering allowing the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption: the GE salmon. Said to grow twice as fast, the company that owns the GE-salmon technology assures the public that its genetically engineered salmon will never escape into the wild and that it is perfectly safe, while opponents cite that no long-term safety or environmental impact studies have been conducted.

One way to avoid GMOs is to choose organic. GMOs are prohibited by law under certified organic standards. When you choose organic, you can significantly minimize your dietary exposure to GMOs and toxic, synthetic pesticide residues. You also support a system of sustainable agriculture and food production that supports local economies, health, and the environment.

To learn more:

The Organic Institute for Responsible Technology responsibletechnology.org

The Organic Center organic-center.org

Non-GMO Project nongmoproject.org

Steven Hoffman
Steven Hoffman

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